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Beautiful Capilano River Park
Capilano Lake is one of the main reservoirs for the City of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. As a result, you can’t actually go down to the water – it’s all behind a chain linked fence. It’s still exceptionally pretty though to look at.
At the main entrance to the park is the Cleveland Dam, Capilano Lake and one of the most beautiful views in the Lower Mainland. The park at the Cleveland Dam is a great place for a picnic, hike, brief stop for a stroll, or to take photos of the scenery.
Capilano Lake exists because of the Cleveland Dam. You can walk across it and look down from the top to the canyon floor below. Click Cleveland Dam for more information.
Capilano Salmon Hatchery
The Capilano River Hatchery is located downstream from the Cleveland Dam and Capilano Lake. It’s about a 20-minute walk down from dam, or you can drive straight there. At the hatchery there is an interpretive centre with displays and information. Admission is free and the salmon hatchery is open every day of the year.
At the hatchery you’ll learn about salmon and their life cycles. If you go in the fall there is also an excellent chance you’ll get to see large salmon swimming upstream and through the hatchery viewing area on their way up river to spawn.
Most times of the year the hatchery isn’t a destination in itself, but more just a nice free addition to the park (so something to drop in at while on your hike). The exception is in autumn when the salmon are running – that’s when the hatchery becomes a most interesting place to visit.
For more information about the hatchery, check out the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website.
Capilano River Walking Trails
Capilano River Regional Park has some amazing hiking trails, including the Baden Powell Trail, as well as some good biking trails too.
The path down to the hatchery is a nice short walk. You can walk down from either side of the dam. The route is a loop so you can walk down one way and back up the other. In total it takes about 20 minutes in either direction.
Hiking Trails to the Hatchery and Back
Looking for a nice trail to explore? We recommend crossing the dam and going down the far side. Follow the Giant Fir Trail, so keep left as you make your way down.
After about 10 minutes take the stairs on the left (which is marked as being part of the Giant Fir Trail). At the bottom, start heading along the path back toward the dam. This will take you to the Second Canyon Viewpoint. There you will find a great view of the canyon with the dam and its waterfall in the distance.
From the top of the dam to the viewpoint takes about 20 minutes, and then from there just another 10 or so to the hatchery.
The Route Back Up to the Hatchery
From the hatchery, to get back up to the dam, continue up the steps to the right of the hatchery (unless you want to go back up the way you came). This other route involves a lot of stairs, at least for the first half of the way, and is about one kilometre in length.
At the top of the stairs you have two options: 1) Find more stairs and climb them a further 200 metres up to the parking lot back at the top of the park, or 2) walk along the dirt road back up to the dam.
The road isn’t the greatest as it passes a couple of industrial buildings, but just before you get to the top, you’ll come to another viewing area of the dam. In total, the trip back up to the dam will take 15-20 minutes, all depending on how fast you walk. All in all, this is an exceptional walk.
Instead of doing the loop, if you’re feeling really energetic, then in lieu of heading back up to the dam just keep heading downstream and you can walk for miles, all the way down to the ocean if you want.
Hiking South from the Hatchery
When you visit Capilano Regional Park you can park at the top, near the dam, or further down by the hatchery. From the hatchery you can do the loop described above, or you can head further south and do a slightly longer loop.
From the hatchery, if you head just a short ways to the south, downriver, you’ll come to the Cable Pool Bridge (which as of the spring of 2021 was closed because a tree fell on it). When it’s open, the bridge is a pretty spot to admire the river from. There is also a lookout a little further along. From both spots you’ll sometimes see people fishing far below.
If you cross the Cable Pool Bridge (after it reopens), and you head north, so upriver, you’ll be on the loop back up to the dam as described above. If you cross the bridge and then turn left, and go south, you’ll eventually make you way down the mountain to the ocean.
Instead of crossing the Cable Pool Bridge at all, if you stay on the east side of the river and continue heading south, you’ll find another wonderful trail. After a ways you’ll come to another bridge. Cross that and you’ll be on the other side of the river. If you continue along you’ll make your way back to Cable Pool Bridge.
The above hiking routes make a figure eight-shaped double loop. The Cleveland Dam is at the top and the Hatchery and Cable Pool Bridge are in the middle. To do the entire route takes just under an hour. It’s a beautiful place to hike!
Tips and Advice
Below are a couple of tips and suggestions to help you make the most out of your visit to the park.
TIP #1: If you do want to walk all the way to the ocean, and you have a car, then maybe leave your vehicle at Park Royal Shopping Mall or somewhere down in West Vancouver and then bus back up – or park at the dam and then plan to bus back.
TIP #2: Don’t forget to take your camera. The scenery is stunning!
TIP #3: The Lions’ Peaks make a beautiful background for photos of Capilano Lake. The mountains are in the sun in the mornings and early afternoons, but increasingly in the shade later in the day. The falls over the dam are in the sun just after mid-day depending on the time of year.
TIP #4: If it has rained recently, take boots as the trails can get muddy.
TIP #5: The park is an exceptional place any time of the year, whether it’s for a short visit at the top or for a long hike. The best times of the year, however, are in the spring when the surrounding mountains are still covered in snow but the park is all lush and green, or in the autumn when the leaves are changing colour and the salmon are spawning and on display at the hatchery.
Other Things to Consider
- Dogs aren’t allowed on the lawns at the park above the dam, but they are allowed in most other areas when on a leash.
- The Cleveland Dam is wheelchair accessible, but the walking trails through the forest are not.
- The Hatchery is also wheelchair accessible if you drive right to it.
- There are trails for mountain biking, but many are for pedestrians only, including those along the river and close to the hatchery.
Other similarly beautiful parks on the North Shore include the following:
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Vancouver Hiking Trails
- Lower Mainland Parks & Nature
- Vancouver’s North Shore
- Vancouver on a Budget
- Activities for Children